Locals and experts weigh in on bank security

by Emaryi Williams-

22 Mar. – Everyday banking involves ATM machines similar to this Truist one, located on the Virginia Tech campus. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

The collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank on Friday, March 10, and the closure of Signature Bank that following Sunday have raised new questions about banking in the United States.

People in the New River Valley (NRV) are sharing their thoughts as well.

“It’s kind of worrying, I hope they [banks] are keeping our money secure,” said Margaret Greene.

“Personally, I’m not worried about it,” said Will Coleman, “I’m insured to get paid back.”

According to the Federal Deposit of Insurance Corporation (FDIC), numerous bank failures have occurred throughout the Commonwealth, dating back to 1935. Some banks within the NRV have come close to failing and needed assistance, with the latest happening in Blacksburg at the First of Montgomery County Bank and in Wytheville at the Mountain Security SB in 1986. 

21 Mar. – The Atlantic Union bank building is located on Arbor Dr. in Christiansburg, and it hosts two other businesses on its second and third floors. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

Assistant Branch Manager of the Atlantic Union Bank in Christiansburg, Tiffany Shepherd said while people are worried about their coverage, recognizing the difference between types of banks is key to soothing fears.

“They were rapid growth banks. They had a lot of dealings with start-up companies, cryptocurrency, and investing in those types of things”  Shepherd said.

Shepherd explained that problems with Silicon Valley and Signature Bank occurred when their investments went downhill and people began pulling money out. She said people who bank with more traditional banks will most likely not experience that problem.

“We’re [Atlantic Union] more of a traditional bank, like the bigger banks you see around – like Wells Fargo and Tuist,” Shepherd said. “The way we invest and do our assets is a little different than the way that they do.”

22 Mar. – Student in the NRV withdrawing money from a traditional bank ATM machine. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

If a bank does fail, Shepherd said due to insurance provided by the FDIC, people are covered up to $250,000. 

“Assuming that these banks had something in place because they are required to by law, they had customers come and close out their accounts and move it to another bank,” she said.

The assistant bank manager said that banks and even credit unions are insured by either the FDIC or the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). The rule of coverage is one of the ways people can protect their monetary assets.

“Say you have an account that you’re on by yourself, you are covered up to $250,000. Say you add someone on the account as a joint, then they also are insured up to $250,000…so the more people you have on that account, the better it is,” Shepherd explained.

Shepherd said while traditional banks are solid and it has been 121 years since Atlantic Union has experienced even a quarterly loss, she understood that people might still want extra assurance. Shepherd advised worried individuals to use the FDIC’s EDIE calculator.

“You can go in and put in all of your accounts, how they’re set up – with you, or joint owners, or payable on death – and it’ll show you if you’re covered or not. That way, you’ll know if you need to do something to make sure you’re fully covered,” Shepherd said.

Business developer blocked from leasing at Kent Square

by Ben Walls-

Delaware business developer Joseph Boss continues to fight on his behalf for opening two restaurants at 202 South Main Street and 204 South Main Street in Blacksburg.

“I’m committed to bringing change,” Boss said. “I want to invest more into the community of Blacksburg, not less.

“I want to be involved in the culture down at Virginia Tech and to improve it and make it better.”

204 South Main Street, Blacksburg is one of two restaurant location spaces that developer Joesph Boss wants to lease. It currently has no tenants. March 20, 2023.

Boss wishes to open one bar named “The Sandman” and one pizza restaurant named “Weirdoughs.” Meanwhile, the Town of Blacksburg’s Planning and Building Department has denied his building permit application twice in 16 months.

Boss added he has “scratched his head” and does not know what criteria he is missing for Blacksburg to approve his applications. Boss admitted in the past year the town has made criticisms to the restaurants’ access to the bathrooms and the patios outside, however.

The two restaurant locations would occupy spaces that a Subway and a Starbucks location formerly leased in the Kent Square development. The development itself spreads across nearly 100,000 square feet in Blacksburg’s original 16 squares, and it includes a parking garage, an art gallery, a dental office, a jewelry store and condominiums currently.

According to Boss, acceptable liquor licenses have been approved, and restaurant employees who will have starting hourly rates at $15/hour have already been selected for work.

Frustrated with the town’s response to his proposals, Boss turned to creating a change.org petition to create grassroots support and inform the Blacksburg public about his cause. 

Boss says bartenders and servers have been chosen for work at The Sandman and Weirdoughs. March 20, 2023.

The petition titled “Save Weirdoughs and The Sandman from The Town of Blacksburg’s abuse of power” has dozens of supporters wishing for answers why a building permit has not been approved.

“Weirdoughs and The Sandman are two new businesses (restaurants) that invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the community of Blacksburg,” Boss said as the petition’s writer. “These businesses are projected to hire over 100 employees in the community and pay 30% higher wages than the local average.

“They [were] both already approved as restaurants for Starbucks and a Subway. So we ask why is there an issue now?”

Explained: Attending an out-of-state college/university

by Deanna Driver and Emily Logue —

In-state universities are often cheaper and closer to home, but out-of-state institutions have the ability to provide more opportunities.

Out-of-state students choose their university for a variety of reasons, but once they arrive on campus, their experiences and community reassure their decision. This is displayed on both a national level as well as with Virginia Tech students.  

ADHD med shortage requires patients to seek alternatives

by Cyna Mirzai-

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 16, 2023 — The nationwide shortage of the common ADHD medication Adderall is leading patients to test new forms of medication. Photo credit: Cyna Mirzai

A shortage of the immediate-release formulation of amphetamine mixed salts, commonly referred to by the brand name Adderall, has been ongoing since October 12, 2022. A direct stimulant on the central nervous system, Adderall is a medication prescribed to people diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to the FDA, one of the manufacturers of amphetamine mixed salts, Teva, is experiencing ongoing intermittent manufacturing delays. While there are other manufacturers producing amphetamine, there is not enough supply to continue meeting U.S. market demand through those producers. 

A rise in demand for Adderall is a large contributor to the shortage, with an increase of almost 20% in 2021 over 2020. Chad Alvarez, System Pharmacy Director of Carilion Clinic Roanoke, said he noticed an increase in demand from patients in the past few years.

“During the pandemic, people were working at home or helping their children with their schoolwork and many began noticing symptoms of ADHD,” Alvarez said. “With the increased use of telemedicine during the pandemic, we saw an increase in demand for those types of prescriptions.”

Many patients are currently prohibited from calling ahead to pharmacies asking about Adderall, since the treatment is a labeled controlled substance by the DEA, according to HCPLive.  A legally controlled substance cannot be transferred from one pharmacy to another, leading many patients to look for temporary alternatives to Adderall.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 16, 2023 — The shortage has led Main Street Pharmacy to turn away customers in need of Adderall since late last year. Photo credit: Cyna Mirzai

Alternatives work differently for patients depending on their particular case, Alvarez said. Whether it is an adult who used Adderall for years or a child who was prescribed last month, the benefits of each alternative provide varying results. 

“I always encourage patients to have a conversation with their provider on alternatives,” Alvarez said. “Other ADHD medications like Focalin, Vyvanse, Concerta and Ritalin are currently available in higher quantities and can treat attention deficit issues. It is definitely worth the conversation with your provider to figure out what will work best for you.”

An alternative for patients who currently have Adderall pills is to begin dose-skipping. Patients can skip a dose on days when attentiveness is not critical to accumulate a reserve that will last them longer through the shortage, if advised by a doctor.

If patients do not want to try alternatives, they can choose to stay off medication until the shortage ends, but Dr. Jeremy Courts, owner of Main Street Pharmacy in Blacksburg, warns patients to be prepared for shifts in behavioral changes.

“You probably won’t have intense withdrawal symptoms but you’re going to be irritable and have trouble focusing,” Courts said. “When you don’t have Adderall but need Adderall, your quality of life goes down.”

As of now, the shortage is expected to continue through April 2023.

NRV programs combat rising opioid overdose fatality rates

by Savannah Webb-

Feb. 17, 2023 — Blacksburg, Va. — An bottle of hydrocodone that was prescribed by a Montgomery County hospital sits empty in a trashcan. The overprescription of opioids has been connected to the birth of the opioid epidemic.

The National Center for Health Statistics released 2022 data that shows a spike in fatal opioid overdoses in the US over the months of February and March.

“It’s devastating,” said Glenn Matthews, director of substance abuse and diversion services for New River Valley Community Services (NRVCS). “It’s just awful. It’s devastating economically, and it’s devastating to families. Fentanyl is at the center of a lot of those overdoses.”

The most recent drug overdose data from 2021 shows that Pulaski County — one of the five counties NRVCS serves — had the highest death rate in the NRV with 50.1 per 100,000 residents. Synthetic opioids, under which fentanyl is classified, were the cause of a majority of those deaths.

To combat these rising overdose rates, NRVCS offers a full continuum of care. According to Matthews, their services have a systemic and personalized nature that larger providers cannot accommodate for, ranging from an hourlong weekly therapy session to residential 24/7 care.

While this is extremely beneficial to the community, he explained that they cannot provide enough services for the demand necessary to treat the large number of individuals who need it.

Feb. 17, 2023 — Radford, Va. — The sign for Radford’s New River Valley Community Services center stands as the only thing to distinguish a nondescript brick building in a strip mall.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Matthews said. “The large majority of individuals need to repeat that treatment six or seven times or more. It’s a long, long process.”

In addition to the intervention services — support groups, therapy and rehabilitation — NRVCS provides, preventative education and emergency training are also critical to ending the opioid epidemic, according to Ashley LeDuc, associate director of substance misuse prevention and intervention with Hokie Wellness.

One of the most prevalent emergency training programs is REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education. The program teaches community members how to recognize and respond to a potentially fatal overdose.

“It’s the easiest way to save someone’s life,” LeDuc said. “To use Naloxone it really is just using nasal spray. Even if you aren’t trained, you can still use it — it’s one of the legal protections out there.”

Online REVIVE! training is available through NRVCS, and Hokie Wellness offers multiple in-person sessions as well. Hokie Wellness training sessions provide historical context about the opioid epidemic, as well as a sample of Naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, for trainees to take with them, according to LeDuc.

“It really is anybody that could experience an overdose,” LeDuc said. “You learn a lot about where opioid use disorder starts, which is with prescriptions that are given from doctors, and it works to destigmatize it.”

In addition to addiction itself, NRVCS hopes to use its services to address stigma in the community surrounding addiction.

“Addiction is not a choice,” Matthews said. “The only choice that’s involved in addiction is the first time someone picks up the substance. Once the brain gets addicted, choice is out the window. It is a serious illness.”

NRV schools implement policy filtering teaching materials

by Caden Dean-Sauter-

Montgomery County Public Schools have implemented their version of a Virginia Department of Education mandate forcing teachers to fill out a form regarding any explicit sexual content used in class.

The policy went into effect in January and requires all K-12 teachers to fill out a form documenting every usage of materials that include nudity, and then defend why the materials are necessary to the lesson. 

The form that teachers must fill out for every material used that contains sexually explicit content. (Dean-Sauter/2023)

According to the Code of Virginia, § 18.2-390, “ “Nudity” means a state of undress so as to expose the human male or female genitals, pubic area or buttocks with less than a full opaque covering, or the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple, or the depiction of covered or uncovered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.”

“Images of the natural human body (nudity) can be found on just about every page of our textbook and are referenced daily,” said Beth Patterson, an anatomy teacher at Auburn High School.

But while it may seem like just a life sciences issue, the policy affects all teachers. History teachers must document uses of classic art, such as the Statue of David, and English teachers must scour through books they teach looking for anything that fits into the description of nudity or sexual conduct.

“The problem is, the strength of literature is its context, its theme, its characterization, its art, not if the word breast or buttocks appears in a sentence,” said Ariel Hylton, a 12th-grade English teacher also at Auburn.

All of these books contain references to sexually explicit content and had to be documented. Taken on Feb. 16, 2023. (DNR/Caden Dean-Sauter)

Both teachers also noted the irony of having to defend what they are teaching, as parents are often just focused on one instance of something that might fall under the VDOE’s umbrella of sexual content, not the lesson as a whole. 

“No English teacher is peddling pornography to their students,” said Hylton. “We traffic in literature that deals with the human condition- messy, ugly, beautiful, and complex. In doing so, we challenge our students, the readers, to look beyond their own experiences, to have empathy, to be tolerant, to be more than their own experiences might expect of them.”

Ms. Patterson also mentioned how a current list of instructional materials with sexually explicit content by grade and subject will be maintained on the school’s website for the public to access.  As materials are added to the list, teachers provide written notice to parents at least thirty days prior to their use in the classroom. If parents have issues with the material being taught, they can challenge the material, forcing teachers to assign alternate work. 

“The textbook as a whole is presented to parents who will have the right to determine whether or not they want their child exposed to the images it contains – I fear for a generation of medical students who have not seen the human body other than in the mirror,” said Patterson. 

So far, no teacher at Auburn has had material challenged.

Gen Z preference: Cocktails or Mocktails

By Kayla Frank

Photo by Kayla Frank Jan. 24, 2023, Top of the Stairs bartenders awaiting customers.

(BLACKSBURG, V.a)- The rise of alcohol-free bars can be attributed to the increasing mindfulness of drinking habits, with Gen Zers leading this new transformation of a fun night out. 

Third Place Bar offers bar pop-ups, without the booze. Located in Brooklyn, New York, the zero-proof bar caters to a new culture of sober-curious lifestyles. But what would offering only mocktails and non-alcoholic beer look like in a college town? 

While sober curious lifestyles and mindful drinking is a trend among Generation Z, those attending university are more likely to experiment with alcohol along with their newfound independence and availability of social events.

Through research from the Alcohol Rehab Guide, it was estimated that 80% of college students- four out of every five- consume alcohol to some degree, and roughly 50% of those students engage in binge drinking, or consume too much alcohol in too little time.

Although the pandemic may have stalled downtown activity, Blacksburg is buzzing again with bars and billiards for college students attending Virginia Tech. 

Blacksburg bouncer and barback at Top of the Stairs, Jake Hart, noted that if anything, more students have been coming to the bars since the decline of COVID-19. 

“When the football team played Miami University in the fall, we were so packed that we literally ran out of vodka and Bud Lite,” said Hart, “We broke nearly every record we could.” 

Gen Z’s refined awareness of the consequences of alcohol consumption is shown in sales research from Drizly. The largest online marketplace for alcohol in North America issued a 2022 consumer report that conveyed that 38% of Gen Z respondents are drinking more non-alcoholic beverages than in the previous year. A high percentage when compared to that of Millennials (25%), Gen X (15%) and Boomers (8%). 

A bartender at Sharkey’s in Blacksburg, Bobby Johnson, get’s the occasional order for a mocktail and has a couple of regulars who just ask for Diet Coke. 

“I don’t think I’ve seen a trend of drinking less, but I do see people being more mindful of what they consume with their alcohol,” said Johnson, “For example, more people have mixed hard liquor with water than I’ve seen in previous years, and the shift to spiked seltzer from beer has also been tremendous.” 

Photo by Kayla Frank Jan. 20, 2023, Sharkey’s Bar front in Blacksburg, Virginia.

One factor promoting mindfulness is the availability of information at Gen Z’s fingertips. Hashtags like #Sobertok have gone viral on social media platforms such as Tik Tok.

Striving for unique experiences, Gen Z has forced bars to be creative and provide special events such as trivia, bingo, axe throwing, and even paint and sip nights. 

“I think a non-alcoholic bar could make it in Blacksburg, only if it offered some sort of gimmick to draw people in,” said Johnson, “On bingo and trivia night, people come in just to play and eat, so it could definitely work.”

Dining out vs. cooking in as inflation rises

by Emaryi Williams-

Restaurants are still open for business on Main Street in Blacksburg, even as inflation rises on Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

BLACKSBURG — The prices for food increased last year by 10.4%, the largest yearly increase since 1981, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics’s Economics Daily

The Consumer Price Index refers to the ​​measure of economy-wide inflation, which has impacted many consumer goods and services, including food prices.

“This is important because it gave us important information about cost of living,” said Virginia Tech economic professor Shaowen Luo about the relevance of the consumer price index.

Luo explains that it is not the absolute price changes that are affecting the everyday American, but the relative price change.

“If everything in the U.S. market increased by 10.4%, including your wage, then your life is not affected,” she explained. For those who did not see a 10.4% income increase, Lou says the rise in food prices may impact their lives.

According to Blacksburg officials, the city is currently seeking ways to combat food insecurity in the area.

“We got some ARPA funds from the federal government,” said Blacksburg Town Manager, Marc Verniel. “One of the projects we’re looking at is to fund local nonprofits that are already helping people get good healthy food.”

Virginia Tech Professor of Finance Derek Klock list many factors to consider that have affected inflation, including the coronavirus, the war in Ukraine and increased demand.

“Whenever you have a supply chain disruption to the extent we’ve had over the past three years globally, all prices are going to rise,” he said.

The cost of a dozen large eggs at a grocery store chain in Blacksburg has risen to more than seven dollars due to inflation on Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

While both stores and restaurants have seen spikes in food prices, according to a 2023 Food Price Outlook created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, between September 2021 and September 2022, the prices of food in restaurants increased up to 8.5%, while the prices of food at stores increased 13%.

“I feel like going out and eating in ends up costing the same in the end because groceries are pretty expensive,” said Emma Larkin, a Virginia Tech off-campus student who frequents Kroger.

Despite price differences, Professor Klock warns the public about assuming that prices at restaurants will always compare better than those at the grocery store.

“Grocery store prices have gone up a lot, and restaurants will have to follow suit. Eventually, restaurants are going to have to pass on those increased prices to consumers,” he predicts.

Klock explains that since the pandemic, restaurants have held back passing raised prices to customers because people have just started eating out again. He says, for restaurants to stay in business, they are going to have to raise their prices soon.

Jan. 30, 2023 – Despite prices in Blacksburg, drivers and customers can be seen flocking to restaurants and bars on Main Street. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

Professor Luo says, there are many aspects to consider when determining whether eating in or eating out is more costly.

Diet is one that she specified as a critical factor. A vegan and vegetarian diet could cut a person’s food costs by up to one-third, according to a study done by the Lancet Planetary Health.

“Some people may value having food outside much higher than cooking at home,” Luo said. “It also depends on your budget constraint – whether you are high-income people or low-income people. So, it’s complicated.”

Constant congestion on I-81: Are college students to blame?

by Deanna Driver-

Travelers drive on a relatively empty Interstate 81 in Christiansburg, Va. on Sunday, Jan. 29.  Photo by Deanna Driver, Jan. 29, 2023.

Around 48,000 vehicles pass through Virginia on Interstate 81 (I-81) in a given day, with 26-35% of that traffic being tractor trailers, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. With this influx of people and large vehicles, 50% of delays on I-81 are due to accidents, compared to only 16% on other major Virginia highways. 

Congestion has long been an issue on I-81, especially in areas around Christiansburg and Roanoke. Dan Brugh, executive director of the New River Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), said that interstates like I-495 in Northern Virginia have traffic more so because of volume, not accidents, like I-81.

I-81 cuts through the New River Valley (NRV), which has a population of around 180,000, via their informational site. Included is Virginia Tech, a large state-run university, which houses around 37,000 students and over 2,000 employees, according to their official website. With this many people only miles away from I-81, congestion linked to Virginia Tech students seems to be likely.

While approximately 100,000 students are on the I-81 corridor in Virginia, surprisingly, they don’t necessarily contribute much to accident statistics in the NRV specifically. However, Brugh did state that a lot of accidents on this major roadway can be attributed to “inexperienced drivers,” which is a category college students could arguably fall into.

This is not the case for every area in the state. Ann Cundy, Director of Transportation with the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, attributed congestion in the Harrisonburg area more to James Madison University (JMU), especially since the school straddles the major roadway, whereas Virginia Tech does not. 

“JMU employs nearly 3,000 people. They are what we call a major trip generator and attractor, so yes, JMU employees and others who live outside Harrisonburg and drive in each day contribute to congestion on I-81,” Cundy stated. 

Between the mile markers of 240-250 in Harrisonburg, there is significant congestion in the morning and evening, not only attributable to JMU, but also to large businesses in the area, such as the Cargill and Marshall plants. 

One of the main problem areas on I-81 in the NRV is from Christiansburg (exit 114) to Ironto (exit 128) going southbound. Here, the road is two lanes wide and twists through the mountains at differing grades with a speed limit recommending 65 miles per hour. 

Though constant congestion is an ongoing problem on many parts of I-81, there are solutions transportation experts have explored. According to the “Virginia Places” website, in 2019, former governor Ralph Northam proposed a toll system on I-81 that would provide funding for roadway improvement projects. This proposal was unfavorable for many, including locals and truckers, and ultimately, didn’t go through.

Despite Interstate 81 being the major roadway in the New River Valley, there are other alternative or connecting routes travelers can take to get from place to place that are likely to be less congested. Photo by Deanna Driver, Jan. 29, 2023.

Despite housing 29 universities/colleges on the I-81 corridor in Virginia, for the NRV, student and faculty runoff does not attribute to a large portion of stoppage concerns. Solutions do not include pushing for reduced student traffic on the roadway.

Ultimately, projects to improve I-81 and overall, reduce traffic incidents, will require a lot of funding and time to fully improve the vehicular flow in these highly congested areas. Transportation directors and officers are actively working to combat this problem and hope to find solutions in the upcoming years.